Wed Jul 16, 2014 6:44am EDT
Related: Science

(Reuters) – The United Arab Emirates said on Wednesday it planned to send an unmanned probe to Mars by 2021, in the Arab worldโ€™s first mission to another planet.

A UAE Space Agency will be set up to supervise the mission and develop a space technology industry in the country, a government statement said. It did not give details such as the cost of the probe or how it would be designed and built.

โ€œThe UAE Mars probe represents the Islamic worldโ€™s entry into the era of space exploration. We will prove that we are capable of delivering new scientific contributions to humanity,โ€ said UAE President Sheikh Khalifa bin Zayed al-Nahayan.

With a population estimated at no more than about 8 million, most of whom are foreign workers, the UAE lacks the scientific and industrial base of the big spacefaring nations.

But it is keen to diversify its economy beyond oil into high-technology sectors, and its oil reserves give it immense financial power that it could use to buy expertise. One of the sovereign wealth funds of Abu Dhabi, the biggest emirate, is estimated to have assets worth nearly $800 billion.

The UAE’s fast-growing airlines, Emirates and Etihad, are among the world’s biggest buyers of planes from U.S. and European aerospace firms, and a factory in the Abu Dhabi desert now turns out sophisticated parts for Airbus.

The UAE has invested over $5.4 billion in satellite ventures such as data and television broadcast company Al Yah Satellite Communications, mobile communications firm Thuraya and earth mapping and observation firm Dubai Sat, the government said.

The Mars probe will take nine months to complete the more than 60 million-kilometer (37.5 million-mile) journey to Mars, and will make the UAE one of only nine countries with space programs exploring the Red Planet, the statement said.

(Reporting by Andrew Torchia; editing by Andrew Roche)

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